Connacht – Mionturas cósta thiar
Before you arrive in the stunning, blessed beauty of Connacht, pronounced Connaught, you may, or not know, that it is known for a higher percentage of Irish language speakers than other parts of the island. As a matter of fact, counties Galway and Mayo have large Gaeltacht (primary Irish language) regions in the province.
Out on the west of Ireland, Connacht has countryside and coastline aplenty. As usual for our mythical land, the landscape is dramatic. What is more, the weather is as pretty predictable – bring a rain coat!
Have a fabulous road trip to then dive deep into the Gaelic culture. Sure enough, you’ll be given a warm and friendly welcome by the locals who are proud of their heritage and happy to share it.
Getting to Connacht
It’s all about where you are coming from. Travelling from Donegal, and other northwestern parts, one will head south and into Sligo first.
On one of our wee road trips, we were heading, from Belfast, for Galway to see a Damien Rice gig at the town’s annual festival. As the crow flies, the most direct route through counties Armagh, Monagahan, Cavan, Rosscommon, and into Galway. In all honesty, you’d be driving all day along this route stuck behind tractors and Sunday driver. If this suits, then go this way. Alternatively, go the longer but much faster route along the motorways with tolls. Accordingly, you will travel south to Dublin and then head due west, off the M50, straight into Galway, in the south of Connacht. Whatever the route, expect slow traffic from the outskirts of Galway town.
Sligo – county and town
Following down the Wild Atlantic Way from Bundoran, in Donegal, and crossing into County Sligo, you will also cross from the province of Ulster and into Connacht. Within a few miles, one will find that the surfs up in coastal towns such as Mullaghmore as well as many quieter coves and beaches dotted all along the West Coast of Connacht. There is so much for us to still discover in the province
Indeed, Ireland has some of the best surf in the world as the harsh Atlantic ocean crashes serious waves into the island. Word to the wise; the brisk and cutting temperatures, both on land and in the sea, are not for the faint hearted. Wet and dry suits are worn by surfers, and other sea adventurers, to protect them from the elements.
The main town in the county, Sligo has a population of about 20,000. It’s a simple provincial Irish town with the usual mix of local council buildings, shops, eateries, and bars. There is a deep medival, and several thousands years of ancient human habitat, history to the bustling town.
It’s not big so one can flow through Sligo quickly. On a dander through the town, we couldn’t resist a stop off at a restaurant with a rather familiar name!
Bless you my child – a stop at the Knock shrine
Of course, Its not all about the coast in Connacht. A trip down the N17, immortalised by the Saw Doctors, could have you literally saying your prayers as one travels through county Mayo.
No, I don’t mean how the traffic can have you crying, rather its the stop off at Knock.
The Basilica Shrine of Our Lady of Knock is an important Roman Catholic pilgrimage site for the people of Ireland and from overseas.
Apparitions of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Joseph, and St John are reported to have appeared here in 1879. People flock here to be cured and will leave crutches etc at the site as proof of their faith healing. Furthermore, the shrine has also been visited by several Popes!
Galway City – Biggest in Connacht
The drive further south, along the N17 from Sligo (or the M4/M6 if coming West from Dublin), leads the weary traveller to the city of Galway. Once you beat your way through the traffic, You’ll find plenty of Galway girls, boys and tourists through the Spanish arch and into the Latin quarter of this fortified medieval citadel. It is by far the biggest municipality in Connacht with around 80,000 inhabitants. Certainly it can feel double that when the tourists flock into town!
There are plenty of different type of accommodations to suit the budget and tastes of everyone. We opted for an Airbnb. A small guesthouse just minutes to the centre by walking. The house was modern, spotless and we couldn’t have asked for better hosts, Pam and Tony.
In typical fashion the rain was pouring down, so we sat and watched it from our window, sipping on champagne and munching on the complimentary strawberries generously provided by our hosts. Who said romance was dead?
There is plenty of intriguing history in Galway, Connacht to delve into before you’re off to perform a bit of a jig in the assorted pubs and clubs. The city developed around the medieval walls built by the local kings. It’s location at the mouth of the River Corrib, flowing into Galway Bay, meant that it later became a merchant port in later years.
The Irish speaking area had its own king to arbitrate disputes between people of this mainly fishing folk. That title still exists today as an honorary king for ceremonial purposes.
The traditional area of the Claddagh lies on the West shore of the River Corrib and just outside the City walls.
Richard Joyce made it famous with his Claddagh Ring design. Indeed, the instantly recognisable design of the hands (friendship, clasping a heart (love), that has a crown (loyalty) on top, is used for friendship and marriage rings.
Arts – A rich tradition in Connacht
Summertime brings the renowned Galway International Arts Festival in Cannacht. Concerts, theatre, dance, comedy etc attracts attention and acts from around the world. It is what enticed us to travel done to the city. there is a vibrant feel around most times and the festival enhances this.
There’s plenty of beaches near Galway, the closest one being Salthill, a short walk from the city centre along the promenade. In fact, separated into three beautiful beaches, Salthill suits all tastes.
The diving board, at BlackRock, is at the end of salthill promenade. For the more energetic, Its a great place to throw yourself into the icey Atlantic Ocean below!
We hope to have given you a taste of the delights of the area. Explore and feel the adventure of the province. Slide further west to Castlebar and Westport in Mayo. Feel the ancient, gaelic people and character flow through you.
If you liked reading, check out our piece on the best kept secrets of Donegal, Ireland!